Devin Haney‘s decision win over Vasiliy Lomachenko ended in some controversy, with the majority of viewers seeming to see the fight go the opposite way to the judges. It probably doesn’t go down as a robbery, since (as many commentators, including myself, noted live) so many of the rounds could plausibly have been scored either way. But with the weight of opinion against them and one truly ludicrous scorecard by David Morreti, there was a bad taste left. Not just online, as the crowd in the building booed Haney’s victory speech.
That’s a shame, because what we actually got between the bells was a terrific, highly technical back-and-forth. A fight this full of both action and skill deserves to be remembered for that as much as the result. So let’s take a look at some of the details.
The Breakdown: How did Devin Haney beat Vasiliy Lomachenko?
The first thing it would be sensible to take a look at would be jabs. The expectation in most previews was that the jab would be very important for Haney. It’s a central weapon to his game normally, and the thinking was he’d need to keep Lomachenko at range with it to stand a chance. As it turned out, in and of itself it was almost a non-factor, if anything playing more into Loma’s hands.
Simply enough, he didn’t have the timing on it right, he barely landed it, and when he threw it Lomachenko would slip under it and come in to attack while Haney’s sight was obstructed by his own arm. This proved even more true when he tried to get clever with it, leaving it hanging out for a second or two: that rarely bothered Lomachenko’s movement at all, and instead he’d punch around it and clip Haney unprepared.
That’s not to say it was entirely useless to Haney tactically. Since he knew Loma was going to be trying to slip it, he was able to time him with intercepting shots after throwing it, particularly through the middle rounds of the fight. He also clipped him on a few occasions by faking a jab and turning it into a hook, interrupting Loma’s attempts to slip to his outside. But, all in all, he had to adjust on the night, shorn of one of his key strengths. As we’ll see in a second, he did so well.
First, though, a note on Lomachenko’s own jab. Although he didn’t actually land it that much more often, he was notably busier, and it was a much more direct part of his offensive game. Unlike the reverse, he was frequently able to occupy Haney’s attention with it as he circled, and since he knew Haney didn’t particularly want to be close in, he could throw it out without worrying that Haney would deal with it and follow it back. His size disadvantage also helped him here- it was hard for Haney to slip under a jab coming from that low, from his perspective.
He also did, in the later rounds, end up scoring with it quite successfully. Haney, throughout the fight, had problems taking his head off center line as he moved, leaving his chin up and an open target. In hindsight, this has kind of always been true, but he’s usually been able to cover for it with his jab and even use it as bait, drawing back as opponents came for the target and punishing them before they land. Loma, though, was closing distance too fast, and on several occasions he snapped Haney’s head back with step-in jabs as the champion tried to move away in a straight line.
Back, though, to Devin Haney’s tactics, and how he dealt with the nullification of his jab. By far the most consistent punch for him throughout the fight was a solid straight right to the body. This was a good scoring shot, and possibly the single factor that most led to the judges scoring in his favour- since he threw regularly to the body, whereas Lomachenko did not. It was also important tactically though, because in the absence of the jab, that was the shot Haney could turn to to back Lomachenko up and give himself some space. It was an excellent adjustment to the situation.
Another from his end was his use of his frame and his shoulder as an obstructing move. This was an open-stance matchup – Haney in orthodox, Loma southpaw. That meant if either fighter was able to get outside their opponent’s lead, they’d have a substantial advantage- and with Loma’s style, letting him get there would have been a disaster for Haney. With the jab out of commission and the left hook only working when a surprise, he needed something else. To help him, he utilised one habit of Lomachenko’s movement that might be considered a flaw.
We know Lomachenko loves to take angles circling around his opponent. It’s the key feature of his game. One thing that became clear in his loss to Teofimo Lopez, though, was that he tends to be very close before he makes that move. He isn’t that great at finding the angle from a bit further out, then moving in. The dynamic here was completely different than that fight, but Haney did take advantage of the same habit. What he’d do is simple- when Loma approached, and looked to be trying to go left, he’d simply stick his shoulder out, or his arm when necessary.
It’s one of those borderline tactics- a bit more on it, and it’d be illegal, but as it was, he’d basically just bump Loma back in the direction he wanted him to go. It wasn’t an ideal solution- it still involved letting Lomachenko into those close-up spaces he loves, and it may have contributed to his lack of head movement at times- but it was a good adjustment to avoid losing that vital positional battle.
Lomachenko’s ring IQ is not to be sniffed at, though, and he did adjust. In this case, not necessarily by finding routes to the outside (he did get there occasionally, but never consistently). Instead, having accepted that he was going to be directly in front of Haney, he decided to exploit Haney’s weaknesses there. In fact, he committed to it even harder- rather than playing an in-and-out game as he had been, he started pushing and staying in for longer periods. The instinct would be to think the bigger man could impose his physicality that close, but it just didn’t prove true.
The first issue came with that lack of head movement. It was issue enough when Lomachenko was hitting him with single jabs or lefts as he stepped in, but when he got in close and stayed there, Haney really had no great way to recover his stance. He wasn’t consistently able to pivot out, and trying to duck and hold or push his way out resulted in being headlocked by the Ukranian. Perhaps he should have just accepted that- it’s a foul after all, and no scoring was happening.
But instead, he’d repeatedly try to bounce back with his chin in the air. Once Lomachenko realised this, he’d stick in and follow, throwing upstairs. And, from round 9 or so onwards, he had frequent success doing so. Once Haney’s head was out of position, too, his feet would follow, and those shots, even though not particularly hard, would send him stumbling.
That lack of consistent stance also just led Loma to have more success in pushing him around. We saw something similar between Lomachenko’s compatriot, Oleksandr Usyk, and Anthony Joshua. Despite being the far smaller man, Usyk was able to consistently win the physical battle in both their matchups, because he simply knew how to stand to gain full leverage and not be off-balance.
Lomachenko had to work far harder to get to that point, using his punches to force Haney off-balance before taking advantage of it. But eventually he too was able to get into positions where he could outmuscle his larger opponent. This turned into a vicious circle for Haney, with Lomachenko’s punches opening spaces to nudge, turn and sometimes just shove him out of shape for even more punches and so on.
Unfortunately for Loma, in hindsight, he made one awful tactical decision. Now, he might be justified in thinking he should have won. But he told reporters afterwards that he believed he was 11 rounds up, and took round 12 off to stay safe. All three judges gave Haney that round. If he’d continued to push the way he had in 10 and 11, and won convincingly, he’d have come away with a majority draw. Still not winning the belts, admittedly, but with far more levarage for a rematch at least, and without one more loss on his record. Whatever you think of the final score, that decision, to coast when the fight was not safe, was a bad one.
We could pick out further smaller details all day, but those are probably the key factors that led to the momentum shifts throughout the fight. Anyone who’s a fan of technical adjustments will likely find something new on multiple watches though- despite the controversy of the ending, this will be one to go back to. And, unlike many Haney fights so far, it was genuinely entertaining too.
The Future: Where do Lomachenko and Haney go from here?
For Devin Haney, the future is bright. He’s got all the belts, so he can pretty much pick whoever he wants, in a strong division. The first name to come to mind, and indeed to ESPN’s cameras, was Shakur Stevenson, ringside at the fight. He called Haney out straight away (while calling him an unworthy winner). It would definitely make sense, if Haney re-ups on his short-term contract with ESPN.
But, since the initial one does seem to have come to an end, he can pretty much fight whoever he wants. The other obvious name is Gervonta Davis, who after his win over Ryan Garcia would probably be the more lucrative option. Raymond Muratalla, a rising name who won impressively on the undercard, also called him out, but that does seem unlikely in the short term.
Still, he’s got all the options on the table. Maybe Golden Boy will make him an outrageous offer to fight their own rising star, William Zepeda. Probably not, but we’ll see. One thing that it’s fair to say is that after a long while being known as an email champ, Haney has now proven he won’t duck the big fights, so it probably won’t be a soft touch.
For Lomachenko… well, it’s hard. The performance did prove he’s not done, but unless he can get an immediate rematch, which Haney’s team seem uninterested in, time is ticking against him. His tears in the dressing room afterwards showed he knows this might have been his last chance. Possibly the most sensible move would be to move back down to 130lbs, a much more sensible weight for him, and see if he can unify there.
With four separate champions, with different promoters, that would take time though, if he could even get those fights made. Either way, he’s got too much pride to be a gatekeeper, most likely, so whatever decision he makes will be about using the time he has left for more titles as quickly as possible.
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